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Thursday, October 08, 2015

Just Finished Reading... The Rest Of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

I bought this from iBooks only Wednesday and had it finished yesterday. I'd read a review on Tsana's Reads blog and it sounded like fun, and so it was. 

Imagine if you lived in Sunnydale, or its equivalent, but weren't a part of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Scooby Gang. All that stuff would still be happening but not to you, although you might still notice things going on, especially if you went to the same school.

In this novel, we see the goings-on from the viewpoints of a bunch of (mostly) ordinary kids, who have enough problems without worrying about whether evil beings from another dimension are trying to take over the world. The Chosen Ones are known as indie kids. Their adventures are happening off the main page, though we do get a paragraph or two about it at the start of each chapter. 

Actually, I have always loved Buffy because, in the middle of all those vampire and demon invasions, characters would be shrieking,"You stole my boyfriend!" 

In this case, in an unnamed small town, which does have semi-regular paranormal events(soul-sucking ghosts, vampire romances, a plague of gods and goddesses), we see what's happening elsewhere in the town, although the paranormal events do impact on the lives of those who are just trying to finish their exams, get a date to the prom and overcome truly serious anorexia and OCD problems. Mikey, the hero, is the one with OCD, his sister is a recovering anorexic, their father an alcoholic and their mother a politician who does care about them, but is mostly worried about her current campaign. These problems do have to be overcome, even as they pray for their school not to be burned down by the struggle between indie kids and  paranormal creatures...again. (It's only been eight years since the last time!) This is definitely a gentle poke at Buffy.

Despite all that, there is a should-be indie kid among them, Mikey's best friend Jared, a demigod, whose grandmother was the goddess of cats - part of the plague of gods, who had settled down with a mortal before returning to the divine realms. Jared is such a nice boy! And cats adore him, including mountain lions. But he is trying to live a normal life, apart from healing cats and the occasional human.

It isn't as funny as it sounds; there is gentle humour as the author pokes fun at the current passion for YA paranormal books, but there are enough serious problems to make you think.

Anyway, I enjoyed it. It's my first Patrick Ness book, though I do have  another on my iPad, to be read later.

Monday, October 05, 2015

Special Nepotistic Promo Post!

I've just had an email from my brother, who is a member of a terrific a capella group called the Ice Haloes. You can find them easily enough on YouTube, where there are bits from their performances. Then, if you live in Melbourne, you can go to one of their concerts. Or you can buy their new CD, which is just out. And this week, they're on radio, as mentioned below.

Here is the email. 

Hey everyone - a quick heads up about the fact that we are going to be LIVE on the radio this Sunday October 11.

The Ice Haloes will be the featured guests on Melbourne's 88.3 Southern FM during the weekly program "Sunday Sessions". From 4 PM (or soon after), we'll be performing songs live from our new CD Cover Stories and chatting with the host, Mark Missen.

Even if you don't live in Melbourne, you can listen in to the show live on the interwebs (do the arithmetic if you live in a different time zone) from the website:

 Bringing Acapella to the airwaves! 

See you at our next gig! Don't forget we have our CD Launch on November 21.Tickets can be bought via

Peggy, Belinda, Adam & Maurice.

This is the cover of their album(that's my brother, Maurice, on the right. He's the group's bass)

At one point, Maurice was part of an a capella group which sang mostly(but not entirely) "beautiful Georgian folk songs about cutting trees in the forest". We're not Georgian. But the group was, and needed a bass.

That's how he got into a capella singing. I've seen the Ice Haloes perform and, trust me, they're good! Check them out on YouTube.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

New Book I'm Reading...

I read a post on The History Girls blog, by my friend Gillian Polack, in which she mentioned a fascinating book she had read recently, A Drizzle Of Honey: The Lives And Recipes Of Spain's Secret Jews by David M Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson.

Of course, I had to have it and it was available on iBooks, so...

It's proving an enjoyable read. There are quite a few history-themed cook books out there, yes. I have a few myself. The Heston Blumenthal one about medieval cooking is great! But it's more of a history book than a cookbook. Which is fine for research and even a bit for cooking.

But this one has a bit of everything and it's not just "how to cook the way they did in medieval Spain" or even "how Jews cooked in medieval Spain" but about what could happen to you in Spain if you were caught cooking in a certain way or at certain times that might suggest you were secretly Jewish, especially after the Inquisition turned up. And a lot of these recipes are based on trial records, when people's neighbours and servants noticed that someone was doing things the Jewish way, maybe too fond of eggplant and chick peas, cooking your Saturday meal on Friday, having a salad with the girls on Saturday arvo... The evidence against one man who was burned at the stake included a type of casserole he had cooked! This has to be the first cookbook I've read where cooking could get you killed.

The authors have found recipes in a number of medieval Spanish and Moorish cookbooks that sounded like the ones mentioned in the trial records. They have made sure the ingredients were available in your average supermarket. And since so many have a lot of saffron in them(as they say, if you used the amount given in some of the recipes you'd have to take out a second mortgage!), they only include saffron where you really can't manage without it. If you just want the colouring, they say, turmeric will do.

Anyway, it looks good so far. I'm hoping to find something I can try, for which I have the ingredients in my pantry, fridge or fruit bowl!

Meanwhile, back to the book.

Guest Post - Aleah Taylor

Today I would like to welcome to The Great Raven debut Aussie children's author Aleah Taylor who, like me, took a while to find her ideal publisher. I hope this is only the first sale of many, Aleah! 

If you want to buy the book, either in paperback or in ebook, you should be able to get it from Amazon here, from the publisher's web site and I see that in Australia you can order it through Gleebooks. There will be more web sites selling it soon - it has only been out for a week. 

I'll let Aleah tell you all about it. 

I’ve considered myself a writer since I could hold a pen. Some of my earliest memories are of looking at bookshelves and wondering when my book would be up there too. However, I never really attempted to write a novel until I was eighteen. Instead I wrote short stories galore and poetry, songs and scripts. I didn’t really feel a strong urge to write a book, until one day I looked at my son and just knew he had to be character in a book. So my book ‘Mystery on Mount Dusk’, started to come to life. I based both of the main boy characters on different sides of my son’s personality and the book flowed. I would sit for hours on end typing furiously, writing books for children is just so fun

My book is about a ten year old boy named George Mutton who moves to a mysterious little town on top of a mountain, Mount Dusk. There he discovers his new best friend Charlie Redwin and soon the boys uncover that Charlie’s evil guardian Uncle Hubert, is up to even more wicked things than they thought. Hubert Redwin is conjuring spirits back from the grave and entrapping innocent people’s souls in trees. The boys, with George’s little sister Maggie and Charlie’s twin sister Yvonne, vow to set the trapped souls free and rid the town of the evil man who has cursed it. But it’s all more complicated than they think and now they are the ones in danger from ghostly apparitions and ancient magic, darker than they could ever have imagined…


Every time I finished writing a chapter my heart would beat a little faster, I was one step closer to the vision of me holding a completed manuscript, ready to send it off to eager publishers. When that day finally came I typed the last sentence and squealed with joy, merrily telling all of my friends and family that I’d done it! I’d finally finished my book after a year of writing! But, of course, that’s when the real work starts. The fun part is over and now it’s time to convince people you don’t know that they should read your book and eventually publish it. The rejections hurt, I thought I was prepared for it but I wasn’t. My heart would ache with each line of the rejection letter, or I’d get no response and slowly day by day hope would wither away to dust.

After eight long years of looking for a publisher I’d had enough. I promised myself that I would contact one last publisher and if they didn’t like it, I was done. A year went past with no response and so I resigned myself to the idea that I might be left with self-publishing and that was okay. Dreams of traditional publishers are often dashed and I was just one of the many unlucky ones.

Then I got an email.

I was still in my pajamas, munching on breakfast and checking my inbox when I saw it, from NeverlandPublishing. I quickly threw my spoon down and tried to calm my pulse before clicking on the email. Finally I was reading it and tears instantly sprang to my eyes… I was going to be offered a publishing contract! I didn’t know what to do with myself, I laughed, I cried, I tried to call everyone I knew with shaky fingers eagerly tapping the phone screen. After running to my mother’s house and telling her it finally seemed real. I was a published author and people were finally going to read my book.

Now my book has just been released and slowly but surely the news of my book is spreading. Nine years of hoping, wishing, pleading my case and fiercely championing my work has paid off. I’ve heard a few comments from my first readers and each comment has sent a warmth through my heart. I just love hearing that something I worked so hard at is making people happy, making them love the written word that I too love so much. I feel like ‘Mystery on Mount Dusk’ is a child of mine, all grown up and out in the world doing fabulous things. I hope that every young set of eyes to devour my book lights up with glee at the words I put on the page. I also hope that new authors who might be reading this take heart that there is hope, even when you think you’re done with hope.

Aleah Taylor

Monday, September 28, 2015

Just Finished Reading... The Man In The High Castle by Philip K Dick

I admit this is my first Philip K Dick novel, though I do have a collection of his short stories. There's a little introduction at the start, by Eric Brown. Apparently, he didn't become really famous till the year he died, when the film Bladerunner came out. Then his SF books were reprinted and his mainstream stuff finally got an airing. Well, Bladerunner has become a classic in its own right. Pity he didn't live to see his massive success.

What I find fascinating about this alternative universe novel is that there's another alternative universe novel inside it.

The novel is set in a world in which the Axis won World War II. The year is 1962 and Martin Bormann is in power. The Germans and the Japanese have divided the world between them - especially the former US, in which the story is set. The Japanese - who are not so bad - rule the West Coast, the Germans the East, and in between are the Rocky Mountain states, which don't quite belong to either. The Japanese have brought with them the I Ching and many of the main characters use its wisdom as an oracle to help them make decisions.

But in this AU world, the man of the title has written a novel that is banned in the Nazi states and officially banned by the Japanese, who are more laid-back about it. In any case, it's a hugely popular novel, an AU tale in which the Allies won the war. Of course, everyone reads it or wants to read it.

The story is seen from a number of different viewpoints. That happens a lot in Harry Turtledove, but somehow I never got lost in this one as I do in the more complicated Turtledove novels.

I did find the ending a bit strange - and most of the ends were left untied - apparently deliberately. I think I may need to do a reread at some stage. But I'm glad I finally got to read it; I suspect it has had a lot of influence on later AU novels of this kind.

It's currently going cheap on iBooks if you want to give it a go.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

On This Day: September 27

Events: tonight a supermoon/harvest moon/lunar eclipse...Anyway, be outdoors between around 9.00 and 10.00 pm and the moon will be up there, big, round and red! If there isn't a cloud cover.

On this day in history: 

1822: Jean-Francois Champollion announces he has translated the Rosetta Stone. Very exciting event for the likes of me. It made a huge difference in the study of ancient Egypt, reading hieroglyphics. Yay!

1905: Albert Einstein's paper on E=mc2(squared) is published. Huge difference both to science and future science fiction!

1968: the musical Hair opens in London, where it keeps playing until 1973, when it's shut down by a collapsing rooftop! I saw that show when I was in high school. I felt a bit naughty because of all the fuss about the nude scene, but when it happened, it was a few seconds and the lights were dim - you couldn't tell the difference between male and female, even!  I remember thinking, "What was all that fuss about?" And in the end, it became a classic show with music we still hum.

1998: This year, Google has claimed this date for its 17th birthday, though it has claimed several other days over the years. Anyway, some time in September. Happy birthday, Google. I've had a lot of use from you - and who would have thought the word would become a verb?


 I could only find one of writerly interest to me, that of John Marsden, author of the Tomorrow series, about "what if Australia was invaded and a bunch of teens were out on a hike at the time?". The heroine, Ellie, told it from her viewpoint. This was long before books like The Hunger Games and such, with their tough, strong heroines. I have to admit that I only read the first four in the series - I felt at the time that it could have ended with Book 3. But the kids didn't, and it was, for some years, a series that was borrowed constantly from my library. These days they mostly gather dust, which is a pity, but every now and then a student discovers them...

His books have sold in the millions and he has written novels that appealed both to boys and girls, not an easy job!  It does help that he's a teacher, but still - not easy. Happy birthday, John! 

There's also Greg Morris, who played Barney, the technician in Mission Impossible, a series I loved in my teens. Not a writer, but something of which I have fond memories. Barney didn't go out and act during the missions; he sat quietly building, fiddling with switches and dials and generally creating the stuff without which the others couldn't have carried out their missions. Mr Morris made a guest appearance in the remade series, in which his son, who played Barney's son, was a regular cast member.   

I must add that I enjoyed the remake too - it was filmed here in Australia, one season in Melbourne, and it was great fun spotting familiar landmarks made up to be other landmarks. The National Gallery of Victoria was the New York Museum of Modern Art. The State Library became the Cairo museum of antiquities. Even our Chinatown, Little Bourke St, was "somewhere in Asia". And the Sovereign Hill gold rush theme park was some American millionaire's private Western town.

Today is World Tourism Day - a pity I haven't done much tourism in recent years.

And it's the feast day of St Vincent De Paul, one of the Church's nicer saints, in whose honour we have the Vinnies, who do a lot of good for people who need it. He had quite an exciting life, possibly more exciting than he would have liked, before he died on this day in 1660, but did a lot of good. 

Check out this public domain portrait of him - isn't that a benign face? 



Theophilus Grey And The Demon Thief by Catherine Jinks. Sydney: Allen And Unwin, 2015.

Twelve year old Theophilus Grey(generally known as Philo) is the leader of a team of link boys. In eighteenth century London, theirs is a necessary job, escorting clients home late at night by torchlight. There is rivalry between them and the newer lamp lighters, but they still have plenty of work. Philo and his crew work for a former law clerk, Garnet Hooke, who is too ill to leave his home and has made a new career both as the employer of the team and someone who gathers information for the magistrates, for payment. A third occupation is as a "cunning man", a sort of male version of a wise woman, giving advice. That becomes important in the course of the novel.

Now some people in London's underworld are beginning to drop into unconsciousness for no apparent reason, and the word is spreading that the reasons are supernatural. Philo is prepared to consider that possibility, and try to find out who - or what - is behind it all. Is there a connection between this and the sudden crime wave in the area? Will he find out what is going in before anyone he cares about is hurt?

This book, like Catherine Jinks's other historical novels, has clearly been thoroughly researched to draw the reader into the era in which it is set. There is the sight, smell and flavour of eighteenth century England, and the slang of the time, with a handy glossary at the end for anyone who couldn't work it out from context. It's a world in which a twelve year old boy is mature enough to lead a team and feel responsibility for them. His quick wits and knowledge of the streets and lawbreakers of London save his clients from being robbed on the way home and even save lives. 

I couldn't help thinking, as I read, of Leon Garfield, who wrote a lot of children's historical fiction set in the same era - and I must dip me lid to this author, who has written convincingly about a number of eras, from the Middle Ages to the time in which this novel is set. 

It would have been nice to have a brief note at the end about the historical background, especially as the. author refers frequently to a certain magistrate whom young readers wouldn't know was a famous novelist as well. 

 I did feel it took a while for the story to build up, perhaps a little too long before the hero began to move from wondering what was going on to try to do something to find out. But it did speed up after the slow burn. 

Recommended for children from late primary to early secondary school.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Finally Finished Reading... Forge by Laurie Halse Anderson

I bought this at the Reading Matters conference earlier this year. Laurie Halse Anderson is new to me, but she spoke very well at the conference. She does both contemporary and historical fiction. Forge is the sequel to Chains. Both are set during the American Revolution. In Chains, the viewpoint was that of Isabel, a slave whose mistress had left Isabel and her younger sister, Ruth, their freedom in her will, but whose nephew sold them anyway. Isabel's sister was sold away during the course of the novel. Understandably furious, Isabel had made plans for her escape, after being let down by the Patriots for whom she had been stealing information from her Tory master. She'd been doing that on the understanding that these were the good guys, who would help her get her freedom and find her sister. She had been persuaded by a fellow slave, Curzon, who was working for the Patriots.

The two of them have escaped together, after she helped him out of a Tory prison, but between Chains and Forge, Isabel has left Curzon and this novel is seen from his viewpoint, though he does meet her again later in the book. And Curzon, unlike Isabel, still believes that the Patriots are the good guys. He has been fighting with the American army after his master promised him freedom and money for doing so, and hadn't intended to do any more fighting, but somehow he does end up back in the army, with real friends as well as a nasty enemy or two, and while it's no fun - this is Valley Forge, where a lot of stuff ups led to the men going cold and hungry and getting sick - at least he gets some respect. At least until his former master turns up and has changed his mind...

I remember hearing the author talk about how she came to write these books, about how she would "totally have dated" Benjamin Franklin, till she found out he was a slave owner, who freed his slaves only in his will(and he died in his eighties). That led to more research and she has done quite a lot for both these books. The fact is, of the first eleven US Presidents, only four didn't own slaves, one of them being John Adams, which pleases me since I loved the musical of which he was the hero. And while the Patriots of that time rambled on about freedom, they weren't including African slaves in "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". That didn't stop them from recruiting African Americans when Washington finally decided it was a good idea to let them join.  And, as the author says in her notes, there just wasn't anywhere they could go to escape from slavery altogether, since it was legal in all thirteen states and Canada. Understandably there were quite a few who fought for the British, who had promised freedom to any who joined them. Unfortunately, when the Americans won and the British fled, many of these were abandoned to their fate.

I really must check out some of the books in Laurie Halse Anderson's bibliography!

Meanwhile, I'm wondering if the third book in this series is available yet. It's wonderful historical fiction and I'd like to see what happens next to Curzon and Isabel.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Finally Got Around To Reading... The Fuller Memorandum By Charles Stross

I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who buys a book that looks good and then puts it on the shelf for who knows how long before getting around to reading it. In the case if thus one, I'd actually read the first two in the series and loved them. So why has it taken so long?

I haven't a clue. But I've been in bed with a bad cold and this one fell off the pile next to my bed and - well, next thing I knew I was reading it and finishing it within a day. And very pleased I am, too. Someone had warned me that this novel was grimmer than the first two in the Laundry series, and it was, but there was still plenty to chuckle over.

In case you're not familiar with the Laundry books, the Laundry is a British Civil Service organisation which has its agents working against creatures from a Lovecraftian otherworld - something like Terry Pratchett's Dungeon Dimensions, which were also inspired by Lovecraft. There really are scary things out there and our hero, Bob Howard, and his colleagues and his wife, a fellow agent, are battling against them when not battling against the administration's need to count the paperclips(in this novel you find out why the paperclips are important). The author has great fun with it all.

This novel is pretty gruesome, with horrible things happening to innocent people. There's a wacko religious cult that figures since the world is going to be overwhelmed by Dungeon Dimensions critters in only a couple of years, they might as well bring it on now. Bob and his wife Mo both have their hands full.

But there's still humour. I couldn't help chuckling over Bob's purchase of what he calls a JesusPhone -  an iPhone which he insists must have a glamour over it to make someone otherwise sensible like himself fork out a lot of cash for it - and then some pals from his work turning up that night and installing some apps which you'll never find on a real world iPhone, but which come in very handy later on when he's battling evil creatures. Almost enough to make me go and buy an iPhone!

And those paperclips...

I believe there have been more Laundry stories since then, must chase them up.